Despite a large number of industry setbacks, 2010 has been a very good year for manga fans. We have seen an increase in alternative manga, and we’ve seen publishers begin to increase their output for adult readers. Writers like Natsume Ono and Fumi Yoshinaga are being published more heavily, and good content keeps rolling out from Viz Media. Many of the premier alt-comics publishers, such as Top Shelf, Drawn and Quarterly, and Fantagraphics have all begun to work with manga. TokyoPop seems to be back on track. Multiple publishers have started to look into digital publishing, and although right now the releases for digital are scarce or uniplatformed, it’s a definite start.
Things weren’t all hugs and roses though. I was personally shocked and outraged when CMX was shuttered by parent company DC Comics, especially in such an abrupt fashion. Kodansha’s takeover of the Del Rey manga line definitely raised a few eyebrows, but it was harder for me to sympathize with the company since its communications and poor website design did not help its cause. Smaller publishers like Go! Comi have also faded into the great murky beyond, while larger companies like Viz Media faced large-scale restructuring in the wake of a stagnant and depressed economy.
All that bad stuff aside, we’ve had a surprising amount of quality comics reach US shores this year. Here are my picks for the best manga of 2010.
Manga Widget Notice: In order to be chosen for manga of the year 2010, a series in question must have been in print during 2010, and had a first edition of a volume of that series be printed during 2010. This means that any long-standing manga still in print is eligible for my nomination process. Manga that started print in 2010 received a greater amount of influence in the decision-making process, since these manga are purely from 2010.
10. Butterflies, Flowers
While technically the first volume of Butterflies, Flowers was released in December of 2009, the majority of the series has been printed in 2010, so I feel like it qualifies for my list this year. Butterflies, Flowers is a manga I like to celebrate for a few reasons, but the most prominent of these is that Viz is finally letting a little josei sneak into their Shojo Beat lineup. I love the idea of the dominating member of the relationship changing at the spark of a tone or whim, and I like the identity rolls that The comic is funny, sexy, and a good read. Butterflies, Flowers also represents to me the adaptation of the industry to the aging otaku. We’re getting a bit older, and now we like to see some things that are a bit more mature. Butterflies, Flowers is a good step in that direction, and so it places #10 on my list.
9. Pluto, Vol. 8
Naoki Urasawa is a gift to comics readers everywhere. He has the ability to create suspenseful stories that give their reader a chance to think about deeper topics without being preachy. His series Pluto marries Osamu Tezuka’s Astro Boy with a deep psychological drama that focuses on the concepts of the soul, the essence of memory and human emotion, and what separates humans from robots or artificial intelligence. The last volume of this series is probably the most beautiful, and it pays direct homage to the Astro Boy arc it is derived from while simultaneously changing the story forever. Pluto is a striking example of how Viz Media’s Signature line can be a window to vast amounts of non-standard manga that still has plenty of relevance for today’s manga reader, and that’s why it rings in at #9.
8. Chi’s Sweet Home
Some manga doesn’t need to have sweeping drama and intelligent plot, or witty dialogue; it just needs a cute kitten. Chi’s Sweet Home shows how lovingly a manga can be produced, and shows that manga can reach an audience further than expected, especially when the story is as universal as Chi’s Sweet Home is. Chi is also a great learning tool for children, showing them proper pet care while entertaining with kitty antics. Vertical’s excellent production values bring a cheery, bright tone to this fun manga. This is especially important, both for companies looking to expand their reach, but also for manga as a culture. Being able to transcend boundaries is what makes comics such a valuable experience, and Chi has this in spades. For its beautiful production, universal theme, and its reach beyond the manga fandom, Chi’s Sweet Home makes it to #8 on my Best of 2010 list.
7. Suppli Vol 4+5
The first volume of Suppli was released in 2007; now, three years later, we’re finally receiving the fourth and fifth volumes. Most manga bloggers know and love Suppli, but it is a bit obscure. Let me be blunt: Suppli is a beautiful title. Suppli’s sensuous art, sophisticated style, and complex characters make it a good pick alone, but the reason why I want to feature Suppli is not only because it is a great comic, but also because it’s a promise kept. When TokyoPop put the series on hiatus in late 2008, I thought that it had been doomed to obscurity. TP promised they would bring back the series that they had stopped printing, but I was skeptical. My skepticism turned out to be ill-conceived, and how wonderful that it was. For finding time and the funds to keep promises made, and for being a great josei comic in a world of shojo, Suppli checks in at #7 on my list this year.
6. Twin Spica
I didn’t realize how much I would like Twin Spica when I bought the first volume, but in retrospect, I should have known that this book would be spectacular for a person like me. The unique art, the focus on space travel, and the slice-of-life story-telling are all big positives in my book, and Vertical has proven that the title has the legs to make it through the eventual 16 volumes it will finish at. Ed Sizemore’s Manga Out Loud podcast on Twin Spica reminded me that the first volume came out in May of 2010, and the first quarter of the series has been released in a single year. The first four volumes have done some excellent character building, and the story continues to build layers and expand in a very natural way. For excellent story-telling, character building, and plot progression, Twin Spica makes it to #6 on the list.
5. Cross Game
Mitsuru Adachi is probably one of the best-known mangaka in Japan that has yet to hit it big in the US, mostly because he chooses to write manga about sports, which traditionally have not done very well in the US. This is a shame, because if Cross Game is any indication of his previous work, his writing is a veritable gold-mine of excellent content waiting to be translated and imported to manga readers in the US. His pacing is some of the best in the industry, his cartooning is lovely without being overly complicated, his characters are memorable, and his stories are often funny, sometimes heart-wrenching, always excellent. When the three volume omnibus of Cross Game was released, I gave it an excellent score, and I believe it’s the best new shonen series Viz Media has released within the past few years. For finally introducing us to Adachi-sensei and his wonderful work, Cross Game hits the half-way mark on my Top 10 Manga of 2010.
4. Bunny Drop
One piece of manga that is sorely under-represented in manga buy lists this year is Bunny Drop, a manga about parenting that shows a realistic portrait of what challenges a new parent is faced with. The series doesn’t move at a break-neck pace and for that reason it works where other series might fall short. Some have called Bunny Drop the “not-funny Yotsuba&!, but I find the series much more enjoyable than Yotsuba&!. The strength of the protagonist, his development as a new father, and the trials of young Rin are detailed in an elegant way that shows the stress of buying desks and bookbags, the trials of learning to cook healthy meals and take on responsibilities. Most importantly, Bunny Drop shows us that love and trust must be earned, and are an essential part of the human condition. For being so human, and so lovely, Bunny Drop manages to snuggle its way into #4 on my Best of 2010 countdown.
3. AX Vol. 1: A Collection of Alternative Manga
AX was a bit of a cipher for me. It was hard for me to tell whether or not I loved the collection, or if I didn’t think that much of it. The strength of each short story varied wildly, with some being divine, while others just seemed like glorified poop jokes. The wide array of styles and story-types did have one thing in common: they defied the convention of what comics are. While I may not have liked every story in AX, I recognize that it is a showcase of what’s possible. Comics are a window to the human mind, and sometimes what is behind that window isn’t easy to discern or even look at. For telling the stories that need to be told, for bringing alternative comics from Japan to the US, for opening doors that we sometimes prefer to stay closed, and for showcasing a lot of excellent unknown talent, AX Vol. 1: A Collection of Alternative Manga makes it to #3 on my list.
2. A Drunken Dream and Other Stories
Unlike AX, which showcased multiple short stories by different authors, A Drunken Dream and Other Stories collected some powerful short stories by one author: a legendary ‘49er, Moto Hagio. These stories have been handsomely collected in a way that truly celebrates Hagio as an artist. Her stories are profound, artistic, and oftentimes heart-breaking. A Drunken Dream goes further than this, giving contextual information in two separate essays by translator Matt Thorn which explore the themes and inspirations of Hagio. For giving us context, for showing us beautiful stories, and for delving into the work of a woman that changed girls comics forever, A Drunken Dream reaches #2 on my list.
And finally… my #1 pick is -
It is no surprise that I value Ayako quite highly. In my opinion, it is one of the best Tezuka pieces currently in print, and continues to show that Osamu Tezuka was truly the god of manga. Here’s and abbreviated version of what I had to say about the book in my review:
Panel after panel flows effortlessly, composed in such a way that it draws you in, despite the cartoonish characters that Tezuka is so well known for. His scenery and backgrounds show a vibrant land slowly weighed down by filth and corruption… While I have been dismissive of Tezuka’s work in the past, I am fully convinced by Ayako… This book is one of Vertical’s finer achievements and a must-have for any Tezuka or intelligent comics fan.
My statements still hold true after a third reading; Ayako is the manga that no reader should go without this year. It is a testament to Tezuka’s skills as an author, and Vertical’s skill at producing a beautiful book and work of art.
I hope that you enjoyed my Top 10 of 2010 (even if I said I wasn’t going to do one a few weeks ago). As always, comments, critiques, and discussion is encouraged in the comments section!